Flying Coffin

A very sad grandfather having to say So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu, Goodbye & slán abhaile
Kate again performed her miracle of scooping up all the belongings of the family and yet again failed to leave anything behind. Barry and I did some last minute automatic door dismounting and hope that their chickens at home will enjoy getting out at dawn rather than having to wait until a member of the family wakes up.
Grabbed a quick lunch bite and had sufficient supply of prepared rolls to get them through the first 10 minutes of the flight home. And then off to Memmingen airport, the usual lack of any waiting at security despite the short term car park being full. And off they set to the departure gate and out of view.
Of course, it's very sad to see them go but I quite understand that going home is also nice, especially when you have lots of animals and a large garden, vegetable plot and greenhouse that has been baking in the daily non-stop blazing sun and 30°C of a typical Irish summer. Mobile phones haven't helped this last week, almost daily showing another record temperature mark being broken. Barry has had to keep in contact with his team trying to keep the golf course he manages "alive". Tricky balance watering in such temperatures and yet avoiding fungus growth.
As we entered the Memmingen Airport area, Elliot had asked me to send him a photograph of the F-104G Lockheed Starfighter which is set up on a plinth at a roundabout.
Memmingen military airport was built in 1934, at the mayor's request, close to the city. At the start of WWII it was the base for the "Fighter Unit Edelweiss" but was actually equipped with bomber/transport type machines such as the He111, Ju88 and Do17 and spent the first eight months on propaganda and  reconnaissance over France in the so-called "Phoney War" between Germany and France/GB where no real military action took place. As the war heated up, the unit was moved to France and the airfield was used for training and testing of new aircraft such as the worlds first jet, Me262 and the “America Bomber Me264” – which never saw action but which was designed to be able to attack East Coast America.

In 1944 and 1945 the airfield was bombed many times by the US airforce and on one occasion the proximity to the city resulted in high civilian casualties and damage to the city. The city surrendered without resistance to the US Army on 26th April 1945 and the airfield used to house homeless and refugees. In 1954, the US restarted flights using it for training and a unit of  German Airforce was stationed here to train on transport planes and helicopters. In 1959 the fighter-bomber squadron 34, later named “Allgäu” squadron was based here. (JaboG 34 Jagd- Bomber-Geschwader or Hunter-Bomber-Squadron).

Allgäu is the area in the southwest of Bavaria which includes Memmingen and stretches down to the Alps around Oberstdorf. The airport is nowadays the highest altitude commercial airport in Germany.

In the cold war period, the US also based nuclear weapons here and a separate 400 man unit to service this. The German group were involved in one potentially difficult political situation when they lost two F-84 Thunderstreaks over Czechoslovakia in 1959. From 1964, the unit became the F-104G Starfighter and was a nuclear-capable “quick reaction unit” for NATO  against the Warsaw Pact. In 1987 it became the Panavia Tornado but finally, in 2003, the last military flights were made and in 2004 the commercial airport was started by the city of Memmingen, County of Unterallgäu and a large number of medium size local companies. In 2010, came the breakthrough when Ryanair started to use it, naming it Munich West International Airport despite Munich centre being 110km away.
The Ryanair connections have increased to include the British Isles, Sweden and lots of destinations around the Med and Balkans. The biggest increase though has been the use of East European airlines and the Russian Aeroflot cheap carrier division. The first 6 months of this year has seen passenger numbers increase by over 30% and for the year, it should reach close to 1.5 million. Financing of major runway/taxiway improvements has recently passed all the planning/objection stages.
The future of the airport looks good but it still questionable whether it is financially sound. One has to say the passengers love the easy, relaxed formalities there and such things as the relatively cheap longterm holiday parking and the proximity to the Zurich-Munich autobahn and one sees many Austrian and Swiss cars in the carpark.
Well, that was a rather long preamble to the actual photo today! The F104 Starfighter was conceived in the 1950s during the Korean War as a fine weather interceptor. Its performance is even today impressive but its safety record appalling. It has tiny wings which give little uplift and the leading wing edge was so thin and sharp that they had to have protective covers to avoid injury to mechanics when on the ground.
Before the plane came into use by the German Airforce, the worlds top fighter ace, a German, declared the plane unsuitable and not long after introduction the entire German fleet was grounded until most of the problems could be rectified. Between 1962 and 1984, 116 German pilots were killed and the plane earned such nicknames as the “Widowmaker”, “Flying Coffin”,  “Hatpin”, “Aluminium Death Tube”, “Flying Phallus” and several more amongst the many nations who had bought one of the 2,500 built. It was simply a “manned rocket”.
A large part of the problem was that the original fine weather, very fast speed interceptor role was later changed to a bad weather fighter-bomber one for which it was wholly unsuitable. No doubt the massive US/European Lockheed Scandal and in Germany the Lockheed Bribery Affair were leading causes of putting the plane into service in Europe. I suspect flying it was quite a challenge but quite a thrill when everything went well. I saw a description of an Italian pilot which went along the lines:
“I know the capabilities of the Starfighter. I know my capabilities as a pilot. I try to keep in this very narrow band when flying this constantly challenging plane, to try and keep it almost within the realm of safety.”
Another saying was you need to treat her like a lady or she will kill you.

One needs to also remember that it wasn't until 1955 that the Americans allowed the new German State to have an army. Therefore there were virtually no experienced pilots and the government wanted to quickly establish the defence force so as to fully play a role in NATO. The naval airforce arm wanted the British Lightning, senior politicians wanted the French Mirage (to help with improving Franco-German relationship) but out of nowhere came the Lockheed Starfighter - the bribery had begun. Here a German TV docu about the Starfighter scandal. (in German).

There is a smallish museum maintained by the Starfighter Vets Association at the airport dedicated to the military era there but it seems to have expanded greatly in recent years. I had thought it would hardly be worth visiting but since the grandchildren left, I have looked at an associated new webpage and see it would certainly be worth a visit next time. Apart from a Starfighter, they have a Tornado, Fiat G-91, MIG 21, F-84 and a whole array of small parts collections such as ejector seats, models etc.

Sorry to any “normal” Bliper who has made the difficult and long treck through this Blip, but I have done it mainly for my grandson and hope he enjoys reading up on the history. He is luckily an avid reader. Perhaps one day he and sister Charlotte will be allowed to stay on for an extra week or two in the holidays when the parents disappear home. I cannot though recommend what happened to me starting as an eight-year-old who had to fly from the UK to Germany and across the Atlantic as an “unaccompanied child” and that for many years. I think they probably need to get to the teenager stage first.

(Extra Photo is the plaque next to the displayed Starfighter erected by the Vets Association commemorating 44 years of the Allgäu 34th Division and 23 years of the Starfighter being based there.)

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